Robben Island JailI have just spent most of the morning in long queues at the consular section of the High Commission of South Africa in London – my sister is due to spend 8 months working on charity projects there from 4th January onwards. Now, it might not be as nasty there as at Robben Island (pictured), but the consular section is really, really downright horrid.

First of all, they refuse to answer any queries put to them by phone. That’s the reason I was sent there in person to help out my sister. The phones ring and ring in the background and are never answered. What are you supposed to do if you don’t live in London? They don’t open enough desks, so the queues are enormous. And perhaps worst of all, the criteria that they impose on people to get visas are utterly ludicrous. A man in front of me in the queue was told that a certificate that showed he was healthy enough to fly a plane was not adequate and that he had to get a certificate from a doctor.

I spent a while chatting with some other people in the line about how they needed proof they did not have tuberculosis in order to get visas to work in South Africa, while South Africans do not need such proof to come and work in the UK. Now, which country has problems with TB? It’s for sure not the UK! Further, all applicants were complaining that the forms available to download from the High Commission’s website were not the correct ones, and people were regularly finding other requirements imposed arbitrarily once individuals turned up with their papers.

Perhaps best of all was a guy from a building company with offices in the UK and South Africa who wanted a visa to go and work in South Africa. At one point he exclaimed to the grumpy person working at the counter “40 days! Why do you need 40 days to get the visa? I could not imagine it could be so complex!” If the firm had branches in any of the other 24 member states of the European Union, no such mess would ever be encountered. Now, not that I would want to jump to conclusions, but he looked like a typical Daily Mail reader to me, and I wonder how often such a person would ever appreciate the benefits of the European Union…

Anyway, in conclusion: the High Commission is an absolutely dreadful place. Inefficient, rude, and utterly chaotic. Stay well away from there if you possibly can!

18 Comments

  1. My husband went to the embassy in January 2020 to get his passport renewed (his expired the previous year). The processing time was supposed to be 4-6 weeks. He paid the fee and filled in all application forms, paid for the passport to be sent to him via mail. And left. A bit more than a month later, Covid 19 happened. We didn’t get the passport beforehand and the country went into lockdown. We’ve been out of lockdown for approximately a year. He still hasn’t received his passport. It has now been 18 MONTHS. We have tried calling, the number refers us to another number, that number refers us to a window of time to call within. Nobody picks up at this number – since months. We have sent emails, the emails are responded to with automatic replies. My husband got dual citizenship in the UK (keeping his SA one) about 2 1/2 years ago. This process took about a year. It is taking longer to get his SA passport renewed than it did for him to become a fully-fledged, sworn-in British citizen! He has to travel to SA for personal reasons, since over a year now, but is not allowed to enter on his British passport, due to having a SA one too – that’s the rule. This delay with his passport stops him from entering his home country.
    My husband says he regrets keeping his South African citizenship when he became British. It cost him extra, has no perks and is a hindrance for him to travel there.

  2. Syed Raza

    I applied visit visa to SA on 11/12/2020 and processing time was suppose to be 3 weeks. Now its been 8 weeks but there isn’t any outcome. Fair enough consulate office is closed due to Govt restrictions but how can you keep peoples passports? I have emergency in my country and I can’t travel as I don’t have my OWN passport. What a Shame

  3. Tim king

    I truly want to say the opposite and be positive about my fellow South African civil servants brothers and sister …. however after spending a whole day trying to contact my South African embassy in London Uk I’ve lost all hope and confidence in whoever is running the establishment…. What a joke not a single phone number goes through and when you do get the automated service your call gets dropped EVERY SINGLE TIME and emails are rarely answered.

    All I want to find out is how much it would generally cost to quarantine if arriving in sa from the Uk without having a cloud 19 test done intime on the Uk side as uncle ramaphosa said….

    Frustrating and deeply disheartening people

    Please do your jobs or let someone who is capable of doing so take over

    F@#ks sake 😑😞

  4. On the 31st of October 2019 i was informed by the UK government i am not allowed to work/ live in london and i must return voluntarily to South Africa
    I had all my documents, photographs and money with me at the South African high commission the following day applying for an EMERGENCY travel certificate , expecting it to take 5 to 7 working days to process , on my 3rd consecutive day down at the high commission with my documents i was told the South African high commission does not want to deal with me and they want to leaise with the UK government. after 3 months i was informed that i had to phone the South African high commission. On the morning of the phone call my case worker at the UK government for voluntary returns received a email saying there was no one to take my call and i must phone back in 30 days !! When i did phone on the 5 of March there was no reply . I have been waiting for 129 days for an emergency travel certificate with the help of a case worker from the UK government and still have absolutely no idea how much longer it could take . The South African high commission is an absolute disgrace. The manner in which they have handled this situation is absolutely disgusting. I am embarrassed to be South African. There lack of ability to complete anything is shameful not to mention how rude and unfriendly the people i have dealt with have been . It is no wonder the country is in ruin and so many people that were born there are leaving .

  5. @ Midah Mamiale – two wrongs don’t make a right!

    • Hi Jon, while two wrongs do not make a right, you have published an article with inaccuracies and should correct it to reflect the facts. Currently your article states South Africans do not need TB clearance to come and work in the UK. As the reader below correctly points out – it is actually a requirement (together with paying up front for NHS services for the full duration of the visa, but that is another story). An exorbitant fee is levied for an examination, x-rays and a formal TB clearance certificate. Without these the visa is not considered. The certificate and x-rays have to be available to be shown to customs if asked. Incidentally The British Consulate charges you per minute if you have a telephone query.

      • Please note this article is from 2005! And on my blog there are more than 2000 blog entries – there is no way I can keep all of them up to date. Apologies!

  6. Midah Mamiale

    Dear Jon Worth,
    You have never applied for a British visa so you don’t know what we went through to get a British visa. You speak about a docter’s letter to declare that you don’t have TB, the British consular went further by demanding x ray report, immunisation card to proof that I have been immunised from when I was a baby. As for long queues, they are everywhere.
    I think before you start to criticise them please make a little research about the demands of the British embassy in South Africa.

  7. I agree with you.. horrific customer service altogether. I hold an Irish passport and just moved to London, all I wanted to do was to renew my south African Passport, that fella behind the counter needs to be sent back to South Africa, we do not need such incompetence in London, he looked tired and uninterested to listen to what I came in for.. yerr

  8. Sheroly lee

    I am so much disappointed the way they work I just lost 2000 on flight due to their new law , I never thought that a South African child will need a full birth certificate at the airport ,I thought everything is on system ,it’s painful I think South African home office needs to change the new law they are losing tourist due to that

  9. courtney

    I echo the above comment mentioning that not much has changed. They are useless. We used attorneys to help us with my application for a life partner permit and they have managed to talk to the embassy and found out my application has gone through. All I am waiting for is a call to arrange an interview, but they can’t even do that in a reasonable time.

  10. It appears that not much has changed in the 9+ years since you wrote the above. I am trying to get business visas for 2 colleagues and cannot get an answer from anyone. They were downright rude to my assistant and do not seem to comprehend that people who travel regularly on business do not have several hours or 5 days in betwen trips. I’ve got someone landing back in the UK on the 8th and need them to be on a plane to Johannesburg by the 12th… Mission impossible methinks! I think the UK immigration service should treat visa applications for SA citizens in a similar fashion and see whether it changes anything.

  11. Craig Hunt

    My son has been waiting for a renewal of his study visa to do his honours at Vits University in Johannesburg, we were prommised by the South African High Commission in Harare ( Zimbabwe) it would be completed and sent via DHL to our home in Bulawayo.Within 14 working days its now a month.
    The trade mission never answers their phone and getting any information on this study visa and his British Pass port is impossible.
    This will be his last year as the following year he will make application to further his studies else where in Europe SA obviously doesn’t care about students or education. My son is now nearly two weeks late for his classes 🙁

  12. After 4 visits to London and the embassy I was finally given a collection date for my volunteer visa 34 days later. The website states that to obtain a visa you MUST have proof of return flight and you can only apply within 1 month of your travel date. So what use is a 34 day wait. So at the cost of over £400 I managed to change my flights and wait for my collection day. Well that day is tomorrow and guess what? I receive a letter today telling me that volunteer visas no longer exist and that I should just fly out and receive a 90 day tourist visa and keep reapplying for exstentions while out there. So not only did they charge me for a visa that doesn’t actually exist, they also haven’t refunded me for said charge. Unorganised doesn’t even come close! Next time I go volunteering I may consider another destination

  13. I think the whole visa thing is a human rights issue.I am gat vol of not being able to visit my own country because my husband is South African and therefore deserves to be treated like a sub human by any developed country!

  14. Demi Kondylis

    i have recently had the unfortunate task of renewing my South African Passport throught the South African High Commissions office in London. What an appalling display of organisation down there. I am sure any person that has spent time down there can easily relate. The department appears to be understaffed, one person seeing and processing applications (the queue typically 20 strong within 30 min of opening hours). i spent 5 long and testing hours in the queue. There are no toilet facilities, not even a vending machine for water. The information provided via the website is misleading and out of date and the already understaffed employees are extremely unhelpful and have this dont give a damn attitude. Why do embassies think that this poor display of organization is acceptable ?? Embassies are their country’s main representitives abroad and should spend a little more time putting in some thought about how they can make these departments a lot more efficient, but this is clearly not in their interests. it further amazes me that just around the corner there is a huge embassy building allocated to the South African Commission, but for us suckers…..we get stuck in a stuffy, hell pit of a room with unhelpful and understaffed personel

  15. Thanks for the clarification, especially on the TB issue.

    No, thankfully I do not have to go to High Commissions very often. It’s one of the main advantages of the European Union that visa-free travel is possible to so many places within Europe and to countries neighbouring the EU. Beyond that, I don’t have the financial means to travel further afield!

  16. Johann

    It is clear to me that you do not have as much experience on the topic of Visas as I do. Being South African, I have to apply for a Visa for almost every country I visit apart from Switzerland and Mexico. To go to Paris for a weekend I have to apply for a Visa at least 2 months in advance.

    While I am sure the the South African Consulate in London is not the best, I am sure that it is right up there (or down there if you like) with the French, Spanish and the British High Commisions all over the world. I have been to the Dublin and Pretoria British High Commisions and I encountered similar problems there as you have experienced at the South African Consulate.

    On the TB issue you raised just the folowing. All people entering the UK on a visa of 6 months and longer must have a TB check up. I have been travelling in and out of the UK since 1996 for hoiday and work and I get asked for proof that I dont have TB every time.

    To me it seems like its the same all over.

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